Thursday, August 13, 2009

All Set

I wouldn't say I like surprises when I travel; I simply don't enjoy planning. I've left that part of the trip to my partner and traveling companion for the last eleven years. He loves planning; I love how adorable I look when I shrug and say, "I have no idea where we're going. Ask him."

A few years ago, we traveled to New Zealand-a three-week trip "we" had planned for months. I knew New Zealand was home to Crowded House, one of my favorite bands, and that's really all I needed to know. I was all set for my Kiwi experience. Or not.

As we were checking in at the airport in Munich, the Austrian Airline staff member-we'll call her Sissy-mentioned something to my partner about needing an e-visa. She said it would just take a second to fill out the form on the internet.

"I thought we didn't need a visa for New Zealand," I said.

"You don't," Sissy replied. "But you have a stopover in Sydney."

"That's Australia," my partner said.

"That was unkind," I said.

"Done," Sissy said and grabbed my passport. "Oh," she said after a couple of seconds. "It keeps telling me to refer passenger to the Australian Embassy."

"That's in Berlin," said my partner.

"Shut up."

"Sorry," said Sissy. "It keeps telling me-"

"Sissy, it's Sunday morning," I didn't shout. "How could I possibly contact the embassy?"

"This is a very good point," she said. "I'm afraid I cannot let you on the airplane."

As I've clearly indicated, I'm in charge only of cluelessness and adorableness on our trips (although in the mornings I sometimes fetch coffee from a Starbucks if it’s close). My partner holds the reins when it comes to planning. Assigning fault was therefore a no-brainer.

"You're an American!" he yelled. "You have to know what the requirements are for Americans! You never know anything. You are a completely useless—but adorable—hunk of hooey! [paraphrased]"

True. But I can also think on my feet (I can tap and buck dance as well).

I batted my eyes at Sissy and suggested, "What would happen, Sis, if I stayed in the transit room until our flight to Auckland the next day?"

"You cannot stay in the transit room for longer than eight hours."

"And if I bought a ticket to Auckland that left within that time?" You may have trouble believing--considering my history of blissful stupidity--that I came up with this plan--but I did.

"That will work." She typed furiously—which was good, because our flight was already boarding—and handed me my boarding card for Sydney as well as my ticket to Auckland. “You’re all set.”

So, 900 dollars poorer and several racing heartbeats later, we boarded the plane to Vienna and then one to Kuala Lumpur, in which I explained my predicament to the Austrian Air crew “a few” times as they waltzed through the cabin. They were polite and understanding, but there was nothing they could do but bring more alcohol.

I know what you're thinking, so I’ll go ahead and put the words in your mouth. "Was the Riesling good on board?”

“I’m glad you asked. It was OK. Riesling has come a long way since the ‘70s. It got a bad name then because the Germans were pumping it out to make a quick buck. Actually the Austrians are better at Sauvignon Blanc these days.”

After thirteen hours in the air and several bottles of Riesling, we arrived in In Kuala Lumpur, where we were allowed a couple of hours to stretch our legs, buy a Starbucks coffee mug, and rattle on to anyone with ears about my e-visa fiasco.

I was in the middle of telling four small children from Sweden a stirring variation of my plight when I heard an Australian accent behind me: "Give me your passport." I turned around to see a woman in an Austrian Airlines uniform. She was middle-aged and there was a halo around her head. "I have a friend who works at the embassy in Canberra."

"You don't." I laughed.

"I do."

"You don't."

"I do. And the embassy just opened."

Three minutes later, Sheila--which will be the name of my firstborn child--gave me back my passport and said, "You're all set."

Check in for my fondest travel memories of New Zealand this month.

I must be off,